Quantifying Interpersonal Dynamics for Studying Socio-Emotional Processes and Adverse Health Behaviors

Emily A. Butler, Kobus J. Barnard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Objective: We introduce a new statistical software R package, rties, that simplifies the use of dynamic models for investigating interpersonal emotional processes. We demonstrate the package by using it to test whether emotional dynamics in romantic couples can predict, or are predicted by, shared unhealthy behaviors (SUBs). Methods: We use data from 74 romantic couples discussing their health behaviors. The conversations were videotaped and rated for evidence that the couples engaged in unhealthy behaviors that benefitted the relationship in some way (e.g., increasing closeness). Participants also provided video-prompted continuous recall of their emotional experience during the conversation. We use the rties package to estimate the parameters for inertia-coordination and coupled-oscillator models of the couples’ emotional experience. Those parameter estimates are then used as predictors and outcomes of the couple’s SUB. Results: The coupled-oscillator model accounted for 17% of the variance in unhealthy behavior, with both partner’s amplification predicting higher unhealthy behavior (women: B = 0.95, SE = 0.31, t(63) = 3.06, p = .003, 95% confidence interval = 0.25–1.45; men: B = 0.9, SE = 0.29, t(63) = 3.09, p = .003, 95% confidence interval = 0.32–1.47). These results suggest that co-dysregulation, an unstable interpersonal pattern of amplified emotional oscillations is associated with more SUBs. In contrast, the dynamics assessed with inertia coordination were not associated with behavior. Conclusions: The new rties package provides a set of relatively easy-to-use statistical models for representing and testing theories about interpersonal emotional dynamics. Our results suggest that emotional co-dysregulation may be a particularly detrimental pattern for health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)749-758
Number of pages10
JournalPsychosomatic medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019


  • Close relationships
  • Dynamic models
  • Emotion regulation
  • Health behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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